They Said/We Said: 2012 Visiting Committee Report Response - Online Learning and the Residential Community

Elizabeth Reed, Senior Associate Dean, DUE

Several months after their biennial visit to MIT this March, the Corporation Visiting Committee (VC) for the Dean for Undergraduate Education submitted their report to MIT’s Executive Committee. The report was ratified by the Corporation and sent to Dean Daniel Hastings who distributed it to his leadership team. It contains interesting perspective and recommendations, and raises some good questions for us to consider.

The purpose of this article is to share some of the Committee’s observations about Online Learning and the Residential Education, one of the topics on which they focused in March, and to summarize the Dean’s response to those observations.

To briefly reprise the 2012 proceedings, the VC agenda focused on issues DUE faces in three critical areas: Online Learning and the Residential Community, Promoting Student Success and Advising and Mentoring Students. Dean Hastings specifically asked the Committee to advise on the role DUE should play in those areas and specific actions DUE should take over the next few years. In subsequent newsletters I will describe the VC’s views and Dean’s response on other issues their report addressed.

Online Learning and the Residential Community

From the Visiting Committee:

  • DUE has had for some time an on-going engagement in teaching and learning and educational technology, including online learning, through its highly-respected and internationally-renowned Teaching and Learning Lab [TLL] headed by Lori Breslow and its superb Office of Educational Innovation and Technology headed by M. S. Vijay Kumar. In addition, the Dean and members of his leadership team [Vijay Kumar and Diana Henderson] are members of MIT’s Council on Educational Technology [MITCET], which former Provost, Rafael Reif, charged with providing strategic guidance and vision to the online learning/residential education issue.
  • The VC believes DUE has an important role to play in the emerging, fluid effort to develop MITx and other initiatives that bring together on-line and residential-based learning. Among other benefits, DUE involvement could help to alleviate the anxiety and concern that faculty expressed to the Committee. By providing greater input and assessment, DUE could promote better understanding of and quality assurance for the “shifting and uncertain terrain” of MITx’s formative stages.
  • DUE needs to explicitly define its role in the emerging on-line technology/ residential education initiatives and to set targets and objectives that, in DUE’s words, “build strategic connections” and “create synergies to integrate undergraduate learning and life at a research university.”

DUE response:

  • We agree that DUE must play an important role in MITx’s development and the related opportunity to transform residential education.
  • The Dean and others in DUE, especially in TLL and OEIT, are major contributors to numerous initiatives which support MITx and Edx. These include: TLL engagement in an NSF-funded study of data from 6.002x (the first MITx course) and completion of assessments of three MITCET experiments in online learning; OEIT support for MITCET-sponsored online learning experiments which emphasize modularity, development of prototype applications to facilitate faculty authoring to Edx, and coordination of a Spring 2012 MITCET-sponsored workshop which convened 100+ faculty , staff and students to explore educational implications of MIT online efforts.
  • Daniel Hastings developed a schema for an educational network initiative that would address educational issues driven by MITx. This thinking was useful in defining the new faculty role of Director of Online Learning http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N44/letters.html which President Reif announced in The Tech on October 12.
  • DUE will provide funding to support faculty development of and experimentation with online subjects.
  • This summer MITCET moved from the Provost to the Chancellor’s Office and their charter was rewritten to focus on a feedback role. Dr. Lori Breslow was appointed to MITCET, bringing DUE membership to four.
  • Plans are underway for a Spring 2013 symposium for leading researchers and educationalists in related fields, to help MIT identify and address major educational research issues stemming from MOOC’s (massive open online courses.)
  • Dan Hastings and Vijay Kumar are on a faculty committee that is advising the Chancellor in guiding MITx process. This and other steps undertaken in the past few months, should help alleviate some of the concerns which faculty voiced to the VC.

Through these and other steps, DUE is playing an important, forward-looking role in on-line technology/residential education initiatives at MIT. The creation of the Director of Online Learning position will arguably impact DUE in significant ways. As this and related developments unfold, we will need to adjust our strategy and determine how various stakeholders work together for the good of MIT.